Turn Any PC Into a Linux Server

Want a basic server--cheap?

Released on Monday, Cybernet's NetMAX "thin server" software packages promise just that. Based on Red Hat Software's Linux distribution, the $99 packages install on any Intel-compatible PC in as little as 15 minutes, claims Charles Jacobus, Cybernet president.

The NetMAX packages come in three flavors: file/print, Web, or firewall service. Each is fully "precooked" for its specific role. Cybernet emphasizes ease of installation and maintenance, with a graphical interface to get started and then a simple browser interface for all other tasks.

"Just about anyone can master the basics, with a small learning curve," Jacobus says. All the packages support Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX clients.

In addition to basic file and print sharing, the NetMAX Fileserver offers automated backup, CD-ROM sharing, and disk mirroring or disk arrays.

The WebServer integrates Apache, Sendmail, and FTP servers. It also monitors Web and e-mail access, tracks external Web browsing, and blocks spam.

The Firewall lets all network devices share a single IP address, and lets you set simple or advanced security options for individual devices (for example, a dial-in modem).

"You set all this up with simple rules in a dialog box with radio buttons, and you can make exceptions to the rules, for instance, to let ICQ messages through," Jacobus says.

Cybernet also offers a $499 Professional version that bundles all features of the three thin servers and adds a range of enhancements.

A Systematic Comparison

On the software side, the NetMAX thin-server packages compete with difficult-to-set-up Linux alternatives and the far more expensive Windows NT Server (which costs around $1000 for ten clients).

The packages also compete with thin-server appliances, typically running on Linux, such as the Cobalt Cube and Rebel.com's Netwinder OfficeServer. (Rebel.com bought the Netwinder line from Corel earlier this year.)The newly arrived OfficeServer, for example, bundles soup-to-nuts network services (file/print, Net connection, proxy server, Web server, e-mail, document management, discussion, and others) into a unit smaller than your typical Steven King novel.

"We're selling a black box," says Michael Whitehead, Rebel.com marketing vice president. Its neatly integrated features are designed to appeal to small- to medium-size businesses and Internet service providers. Pricing starts at $895 for a NetWinder with 32MB of memory and 4.6GB drive; you also pay $99 for each client beyond the first two concurrent users.

Cybernet's Jacobus acknowledges that some customers will prefer to buy a complete thin-server system.

"But with the level of volume thin servers get, it's hard for vendors to keep the prices down on the hardware," he says. "You can put NetMAX on a $400 PC, and it's more upgradable, faster, and cheaper."

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